The doorbell rang exactly at 5:45. Byron stood in the doorway in a slacks, button up and tie.
“Aren't you a little over dressed for a book club.” Julie asked.
“I don’t know. I have never been to one.”
“Well you look nice.” She said as they headed for the car. “Did you read the book?”
“I did.” He said as he opened her car door.
Once he had come around and gotten in she asked, “Well?”
“Did you like it?”
He smiled. “I’m not sure I’d use a strong word like, like.”
“Okay then did you at least, not hate the book.”
“Yes, I very much did not hate the book.”
“Wait a minute,” She said peering into the back seat. “Is this the book?” She reached back and picked up a book that had a crudely made book sleeve over it, made from a brown paper bag.
“Yes, they made us do that to our textbooks in the 7th grade. A skill I never thought I would need again but it came in quite handy.”
“You remembered how to do that from the 7th grade?”
“YouTube might have helped a little.”
“I can’t believe you were so scared of being seen with a pink covered book that you made a cover for it.”
“It did say in big letters, The Husband Hunt. And it had nothing to do with embarrassment; it was because I wanted to protect your book.”
“Yeah right.” Julie said with a laugh. “Well despite your fear of it’s cover, I am sure you have to admit that the plot was kind of clever. I mean, I would have never thought to reunite 4 old friends at a high school reunion, all desperate and single, and have them make a bet that whomever gets married first will get their wedding paid for. That was a fun premise.
“Fun? I would say more far fetched.” Byron said.
“What?” Julie said in surprise.
“I mean are you really going to bet with a bunch of friends to see who gets married first.”
“I can’t believe you of all people think that it is far-fetched.”
“Why me, of all people?”
“The guy who found his wife from putting an ad in the paper can’t believe in a strange way for people to work at finding their spouse.”
The back and forth continued as they talked about what they liked or disliked about the various characters and the interactions and relationships that followed. Julie was a little disappointed when they came to Becky’s house and knew that their conversation was over. She would have rather just talked to Byron about the book but in they went.
Becky came to the door. “So this is the elusive Byron. Glad you could finally make it.”
“You be nice to him or he will never want to come back.” Julie chided her friend.
“I’m always the pinnacle of kindness,” Becky said.
“Yeah...right.” Julie countered.
“I am just so glad to meet you. I wondered what a man who could land Julie would look like. She had chewed up and spit out so many of the men I set her up with. Then out of nowhere you appear and convince her you are the one in a few weeks. You must be a magician.”
“Okay, that is enough.” Julie responded before Becky could get any response from Byron. They made it the rest of the way into the living room where four couples were all waiting and were introduced to Byron. Byron quickly saw why Julie wanted him to come along to this thing. For her to be the lone single with four couples while they talked about romantic novels was what Webster's would list under, awkward. Byron was amazed she kept coming at all, and was amazed at how supportive these husbands were.
His amazement diminished as he quickly found out that the other husbands attendance wasn’t much more frequent than his own, and as one by one they admitted that they had not read the book. Becky’s husband was the last before Byron and he said, “I didn’t even pick it up.”
Julie with pride and to Byron’s embarrassment said, “Byron read it. And even admitted to not hating it.”
Each of the wives glanced over at their husband to make it clear that they had fallen below the bar and each husband wished Byron had been absent at least one more time. “Well at least one of our husbands cares.” One of the daring wives blurted out.
Byron took the opportunity to fill his mouth with a cracker with some sort of cheese dip on it.
“I am very glad Byron read it,” Becky said, “as a marriage counselor his insights will be most interesting.”
“You’re a marriage counselor.” One of the husbands asked in the same tone he might have asked, “Was it you with the wrench in the library?”
“Yes,” Byron said as he felt any credibility he had with the men in the room evaporate. “But, I don’t know that I have any special insights in this book.” After all, Byron thought this wasn’t exactly an academic book.
“But what about Amelia and Steve’s marriage, do you think it was right for them to divorce in the first place? Do you think you could have saved their marriage?”
“I don’t know that it really makes sense for me to comment on the strength of made up characters marriage.”
“Oh come on, after all, if they were real people then you really wouldn’t want to comment. With them made up, what will it hurt.”
Byron really wanted to avoid any of this but he didn’t want to embrace Julie who was clearly saying with her look, “come on Byron, answer their questions.” So despite the little voice inside his head telling him not to, he went ahead and said, “It was clear from how she wrote Steve that he had depression he needed to deal with and if he had dealt with it appropriately, he could have saved his marriage”
Byron could now hear the voice inside his head again as all the women in the room except Julie each tried to ask him a specific marriage question from the book all at once, it was saying, “I told you so.”
The youngest of the group finally pushed the others down enough to get her question front and center. “So Byron, when (Dolphins man) kept being so kind to her despite her attitude didn’t you just want to stand up and shoot at all the men you meet and say, ‘that is how you should treat a woman, even if she may not be in the best mood or not acting at her best.’” Byron could tell that this question had nothing to do with the book and everything to do with her marriage.
This was made clear when her husband said, “She, whomever the woman was in the book, shouldn’t expect to be treated any better than she treats him.”
The next hour was spent dancing around marriage questions thinly veiled as questions about the book. The husbands were less careful. Likely since they hadn’t read the book and couldn’t veil their retorts.
Luckily, dancing, as Julie now knew, was something Byron was very good at and he actually handled it as well as anyone could expect, and in Julie's mind he had handled it perfectly, until someone asked.
“How long is the right amount to date before you marry?”
Byron was well equipped for this one. He was very strong both in the research of this question and his experience with couples matched what the research showed.
“You should date each other for a least a year before you commit to marriage, if you want to have your best chance at a successful marriage.”
“One year. Didn’t you and Julie get married after only a few weeks?”
Byron had not thought about his particular situation when he had fielded the question. “Well, with Julie and I things were different.”
This was the exact opening the poor abused men in the room had been waiting for. “Sure, all this stuff seems like a good idea or easy to do until it’s your wedding and then things are ‘different’.” Byron did not appreciate the man’s artistic choice to use air quotes around the word different, but realized he made a point.
“So, why were you two so different.” Becky asked. “How did someone who says you should wait at least a year decide a few weeks was enough.
Julie was so impressed with how Byron had done she decided it was time to see if he could get out of a really tough spot. “Actually, he wanted to get married the day we met.”
The audience all gasps a bit as one of the husbands noted, “Mr. Marriage plays by his own rules.” and Byron regained a tiny bit of respect from the portion of the audience with more testosterone.
“Okay, let’s talk about something else,” Byron offered.
“Can’t handle the heat when it’s focus turns to your relationship huh.”
“So, tell us Mrs. Marriage counselor, what is it like to be married to a guy who is an expert on all things marriage?”
Julie did not think this would turn back to her. But with everyone quietly waiting for a response she simply did her best. “Byron’s great in that he never really brings his work home with him.”
And with that perfectly boring response everyone moved on. Byron was happy to hear the next book that was picked had absolutely nothing to do with dating or marriage.
They ate a few more crackers, and started for home.
“You did great in there.” Julie told him as soon as they got to the car.
“Thanks. Do you ever read any books on civil engineering so we can ask you all the questions?”
“Nope, but don’t worry, dating and marriage is only the focus of about 90% of what we read.”
The drive home was even more fun than the drive there. Julie was once again finding herself very much enjoying and hoping that this thing with Byron could work out. She was feeling the same magic she had felt at the Mrs. Goodwin’s wedding but this time she believed that it wasn’t just business or for show. Byron was making an attempt to spend time and get to know her, and the more she got to know, the more she liked. Byron was kind, easy-going, professional, and as she got to know him she was realizing that he was also very attractive. True, he was no Brad Pitt, or Tom Brady, but he was very attractive in his own right. The more she thought about it the more she decided that maybe the time was right to move things along.
“Well, it looks like we are here.” Beginning a sentence with well, was a clear sign that Byron too hoped to move things along.
“I guess it’s your turn.” Julie said, “Do you have an upcoming activity where you need a wife present?”
Byron was in a bit of a bind here. He had been thinking for the last week what he could invite Julie to next. Truth was, he didn’t do group things with married couples. His only friends were single and they were perfectly happy to do activities without his wife along. But what would it look like if he invited her to an activity with just the two of them? The clear choice was a double date with Mrs. Goodman but she was still out of town. One of the joys of marrying a wealthier man later in life was an extremely long honeymoon. He had finally decided he would simply ask her to go to the most boring and bland of all dates, dinner and a movie. But having decided didn’t calm his fears as the moment came. He also wished she hadn’t asked the question the way she had, it seemed to shine a spotlight on the fact that they were going to be alone. “I don’t have anything really specific going on.” Byron began as Julie’s heart sank. “But I thought maybe we could just go see a movie and get dinner, maybe next Saturday.”
Byron had struck the right note. For him to ask her to dinner and a movie, truly the most boring and pathetic of all dates was perfect. It made it overwhelmingly clear that he had nothing going on, no commitment to have his bride with him, rather he was asking to be with her because he wanted to spend time with her. “That would be wonderful,” Julie responded.
Byron was now the one ready to be elated. “Great, then I’ll pick you up Saturday at 5:00 two weeks from today.” He said as he got out of the car and headed to her door. Julie was a little disappointed that the two weeks hadn’t turned into one but she figured, one step at a time, as Byron opened her door. Julie got out, Byron closed the door and now the two just stood. They still had no real established way of saying good bye and neither really felt it was their place to make the move. Byron had far more experience with suppressing his hormones than he had in letting them dictate his actions and at 30 their power to dictate was not what it once was. Julie could see that he was going to be a perfect gentleman and while the side hug might become a face to face hug, she couldn’t expect much more. But if movies had taught her anything it was that even the most perfect gentleman outside can be something very different when invited beyond the threshold. “Do you want to come in for a minute?”
“Sure, that would be great.” Byron said as they headed in.
Once inside they sat next to each other on the couch and continued the conversation. The problem in Julie’s mind was that was all they did. Conversation. Whatever magic thresholds had on every actor in every movie, she could see was not working on Byron. He was as much a gentleman inside as he had been outside. Julie wasn’t sure what he was waiting for. She could have understood if he wanted to claim high morals but that didn’t work, because they were married.
In the end, she did get that hug. It was nice, just like the conversation was but Julie couldn’t help but wonder, “What's wrong with this guy, or what’s wrong with me?”
This date began a wonderful, yet incredibly frustrating, pattern for Julie. Once a month she would plan a fun, often group date, and once a month they went to get dinner and a movie. The more they dated the closer friends they became and the closer friends they became, the more Julie despised that word.
Byron, on the other hand, was as anxious for things to move along as Julie was, he kept saying, next time I’ll kiss her, or next time I’ll tell her, I love her. The only thing common in all his ideas was, next time. And that is how it remained, next time and they both came to accept that perhaps things could work out, even if they were married and ‘just friends.’
Next Chapter Chapter 19